French Toast Day: An Honour Befitting The Universal Favourite
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A decadent serving of French toast — piled high with fresh fruits and berries; a scoop of ice cream, whipped cream or compote; a drizzle of maple syrup, chocolate sauce or golden honey — has become synonymous with brunch, but this is a far cry from the humble origins of the dish. In its earliest iterations, French toast was simply a way to make the most of stale bread. 

This is evident in the French name for the dish — pain perdu, which translates as “lost bread”. For cooks who wanted to salvage days’ old bread, soaking the hardened slices in milk and egg until it grew soft, and then frying it in butter, made economic sense. Plus, it made for a filling meal. That it was a poor man’s dish (at least to begin with) is seen in the German moniker as well: “arme ritter” (meaning, poor knight).

Seeing that it was a dish of the middle and lower classes, it is somewhat surprising to note that one of the earliest mentions of a French toast-like dish was in a cookbook called Apicius, named after a Roman noble of the 2nd Century AD. Under a recipe for “aliter dulcia” (which, translated from Latin, means ‘otherwise sweet’), the cookbook instructs the chef to slice white bread and remove its crust before dunking it in a mix of egg and milk, then pan-frying it in oil, and dousing it in honey. 

France too did have a richer version of the dish, as recorded by the famed chef Guillame Tirel — better known as Taillevent — in his culinary treatise Le Viandier (c. 14th century). Taillevent includes directions for a dish he calls “tostées dorées” (golden toast). While it hews quite closely to French toast of today, this medieval version does not include milk.

To make French toast that has the perfect consistency — not too gooey or falling apart, and not too dry/hard — there’s a simple rule of thumb: Divide the number of slices you want to make, by 2, to get the number of eggs you should use. Divide the number of eggs by 4 to get the quantity of milk. The type of bread you use also makes a difference: you can use brioche or fine white bread, you could even use old buns and a stale loaf, if you’re so inclined. Do remember to toast your bread until it feels firm to the touch if you’re using an especially soft/fresh loaf.